Periods of Massachusetts History (Taken from Commonwealth of MA "Colonial & Revolutionary Records, A Guide collected by Secretary of State Office, Wm Galvin) For specific info on archives, email

Colonial Period 1629-1686 (below)

Intercharter Period 1686-1692 (below)

Provincial Period 1692-1774 (below)

Provincial Congresses 1774-5

Revolutionary Period 1775-1780

Early Statehood Period 1780-1799


Colonial Period (1629-1686)

King Charles I of England granted a charter to the "Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England" in 1629. The charter took the form of aprivate trading company with twenty-six men named as incorporators. The King recognized Massachusetts as a corporate body, with the right to rule and administer the territory under its authority. The charter set boundaries three miles north of the Merrimack River to three miles south of the Charles River, and from the Atlantic on the east to the south seas on the west. Employing creative geography, Massachusetts used these boundaries to lay claim to Maine, New Hampshire, and portions of Connecticut and New York.

The charter provided a general adminstrative structure for the company, but left many details vague. Four Great and General Courts, with the governor, lieutenant governor, assistants and freeman, were to be held annually. These courts were responsible for admitting additional freemen, choosing officers in an annual election, settling the necessary forms of government, and making laws and ordinances for the good and welfare of the company, provided they were not contrary to the laws of England. General Court oders dating from the 1630s mandated careful record keeping practices, thus ensuring that the Mass Bay colony would be carefully documented.

The first General Court was held on October 19, 1630, in Boston. By 1634, the inevitable increase int he population and the inconvenience of gathering for a General Court from the outlying areas led to the election of representatives or "deputies". The assistants, a small group of wealthy men who controlled much of the government, and deputies met as a single legislative assembly until 1644, when tensions between the two groups caused the General Court to divide into two bodies, whichmet separately.

The Puritan settlers, who made up most of the company, faced many practical difficulties as they sought to create a workable society while preserving their religious beliefs. During the first year's of the colony's existence, tension between the idealism of religious beliefs and the practical needs of a small agricultural community tested the colonists' resolve. These tensions led the General Court to exile leading members of the colony who threatened the religious basis of the community. Many of the exiles later settled in other areas of New England. (Roger Williams)

By 1684, the Massachusetts government was based on provisions of the 1629 charter, various legal codifications, and a liberal interpretation of English cmmon law. The colonial charter was withdrawn in 1684, in part because Massachusetts resisted the changes demanded by the developing British imperial system. A strong sense of local entitlement and authority pervaded the colony and led to repeated policy conflicts with Great Britain. Despite the revocation of the charter, the Governor and General Court continued to govern Massachusetts Bay colony until May 1686, when a provisional government under Joseph Dudley was established.


Matthew Craddock: 1629

John Winthrop 1629-33, 1637-39, 1642-43, 1646-48

Thomas Dudley 1634, 1640, 1645, 1650

John Haynes 1635

Henry Vane 1636

Richard Bellingham 1641, 1654, 1665-72

John Endicott 1644,1649,1651-53, 1655-64

John Leverett 1673-78

Simon Bradstreet 1679-86

Intercharter Period

The intercharter years cover the period between the end of the old colonial government in 1686, following the revocation of the colony charter in 1684, and the resumption of the Massachusetts government under the William and Mary charter in 1692. Three different governments were in effect during this period, but the documentary record covering the late 17th century is not nearly as complete as that of the colonial period.

In May 1686, Joseph Dudley established a provisional government, coveringMassachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Plymouth and the Narragansettt Country. The president and Council were royal appointees with the same functions as the governor and assistants. The Mass General Court ceased to function, but the new government had no power to enact laws or collect taxes.

In 1686, Sir Edmund Andros arrived in Boston with the commission to establish the Dominion of New England. The new royal province included the same territory as under Dudley, with the addition of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Andros governed with a council, consisting of royal appointees from the various colonies. They had power to enact laws and collect taxes, actions that were previously the responsibility of the colonial legislatures. In 1688, New York and the Jerseys were also added to the Dominion. Andros's policies, which were dictated by the Lords of Trade in London, proved unpopular. The lack of a popularly elected assembly, enforcement of the Navigation Acts, questions regarding the validity of land titles, and the disestablishment of the Puritan church all served to alienate residents. Governor Andros was imprisoned and the government was overthrown on April 18, 1689 shortly after the news of the English Glorious Revolution reached Boston.

An extralegal provisional government known as the Council for Safety of the People and Conservation of the Peace was quickly established afer the overthrow of the Dominion of New England and lasted until government under the old charter could be resumed. Returning to the form of government in effect in 1684, the new provisional government existed until 1692, when the charter for the new Province of Massachusetts Bay was brought to Boston.


Joseph Dudley 1686

Sir Edmund Andros 1686-9

Simon Bradstreet 1689-92

The Provincial Period

King William and Queen Mary signed a new charter on October 7, 1691. The charter, inaugurated in Boston on May 14, 1692, officially enlargeed the territory governed by Massachusetts to include the old colony of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth Colony, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, Maine, and parts of Nova Scotia. The new charter significantly altered many of the forms of colonial government.

No longer an independent colony, the Province of Massachusetts Bay was now woven more tightly into the British imperial structure. The pwers of the governor, appointed by the king rather than elected, were greatly expanded. The governor had the right to veto acts of the General Court, as did the king. The governor was the commander-in-chief of the militia and appointed all military officials. He had the right to summon, adjourn and prorogue the general Court.

The Council, the successor to the assistants, consisted of 28 men selected from the House of Representatives. They acted as the upper body of the legislature and advisor to the governor. No money could be issued from the Treasury without a warrant from the governor and Council. The lower body of the legislature, known as the House of Deputies under the old charter, was now called the House of Representatives. Freeholders, those men holding a certain amount of property, elected the House of Representatives annually. The General Court appointed officers. passed laws and orders, organized all courts, established fines and punishments and levied taxes, all with the consent of the governor. The House alone controlled the salaries of the governor and judicial officers.

The William and Mary Charter was modified in 1725 by the Explanatory Charter, issued by King George I. Further strengthening the position of the governor, this charter gave the governor the sole power to adjourn the House of representatives and the right to negate the House's choice of speaker. The charter was modified again in 1774, when the British Parliament passed the "Intolerable Acts" as a result of the Boston Tea Party. Later in the same year, the final split between the royal governor, General Thomas Gage, and the House of Representatives resulted int he establishment of the first Provincial Congress.


Sir William Phipps 1692-4

Lt Gov William Stoughton 1694-99 (acting governor)

Richard, Earl of belmont 1699-1700

Lt Gov William Stoughton 1700-1 (acting gov)

The Council (after death of Stoughton) 1701-2

Joseph Dudley 1702-1715 (The Council ruled briefly from Feb-March 1715)

Col Elizius Burgess (commissioned 1715)

Lt Gov William Tailer 1715-16 (acting gov)

Samuel Shute 1716-23

Lt Gov William Dummer 1723-28 (acting gov)

William Burnet 1728-29

Jonathan Belcher 1730-41

William Shirley 1741-57

Thomas Pownall 1757-60

Lt Gov Thomas Hutchinson 1760 (acting gov)

Sir Francis Bernard 1760-69

Lt Gov Thomas Hutchinson 1769-70 (acting gov)

Thomas Hutchinson 1770-74

Gen Thomas Gage 1774-75